Sunday, March 31, 2019

TEFAF - Maastricht, The Netherlands

I was not planning to write about The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, The Netherlands and that is one of the reasons that this blog will appear only after the fair has ended.  I did, however, find a Virtual Reality site that changed my mind.  If you wish to skip the reading you can go directly to the end of this Missive and click on the link directly.  

I have written about TEFAF many times.  In years gone past I visited the show in its original location on the border of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium where many an international meeting has taken place including the treaty that formed the European Union in 1992.   Then the show came to New York in a smaller incarnation with   fall show being devoted predominantly to the Old Master and antique world and another in the spring for modern and contemporary. I have concentrated on the former.  If you wish to read about past shows go to the Missives of the Art World web site and put Maastricht or TEFAF in the search engine, upper left, and scroll down through them.

There are always concerns about what could upset the turnout and results of a fair.  Obviously bad weather can have an effect and I remember when the dealers blamed poor turn out on Mother’s Day. We participated in a fair in Paris where we had a novel issue: Lady Di died in an auto crash very near to where we were showing. It was early days for cell phones and attendance was so sparse that the dealers were phoning each other on their new devices to pass the time. Preliminary reports from Maastricht this year, however, were optimistic and positive.

Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at this floor plan and note how many stands there are:

To save you from counting, there were 276 exhibitors this year covering 7,000 years of art history, according to the TEFAF administration.

Fairs for older art have vetters to give confidence to the art buying public that what they buy is as it is described on the labels.  A vetting committee also has the right to throw an object off a stand completely, but this is a rare occurrence.  It is usually a question of changing a label. And sometimes it turns out to be a positive correction.  Of course, one has to rely on the expertise of the individuals who come to your stand.  To cover 7,000 years of art TEFAF  brings in 180 vetters from 14 countries to draw from.  Many are museum curators but there are scholars of all sorts.  This year TEFAF decided that dealers on these committees would no longer have voting power on rejecting works from the fair because of possible conflicts of interest.  This seems to me a perfect example of form over substance, since the fair administration agrees that they need the dealers for their expertise. Anyone, who has been on a vetting committee knows that one eloquent speaker in a group can convince the others how to vote.

The dealers have to have their booths ready to go 48 hours before the evening vernissage invitational preview, allowing the time for the expert committees to fan out and vet each booth. 

The Art Loss Register, a private entity that has the most exhaustive list of stolen works of art, has been enlisted to check and make sure that good title can be passed by the exhibitors.

Just a few examples of the thousands of objects shown: Galerie François Léage from Paris exhibited an 18th century royal coach from Spain and Haboldt & Co.’s Virgin and Child by the 14th century Italian artist Paolo Veneziano is a real stunner!

This nude by Pierre Auguste Renoir was exhibited at Dickinson Fine Art, London and New York.  It had recently gone for $10,162,500 at Christie’s and was sold within a few minutes of the opening of the fair.  I would venture a guess that it was a pre-arranged sale since dealers announce their intentions to their best clients in advance.  But, hey!, a sale is a sale and that is why the dealers spend the fortunes that it costs to rent  a booth decorate it and get themselves and their staff to Maastricht for the duration of the show.

Even for a booth, as seemingly simple as that of Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, London think beyond the stunning design and lighting to what must have been involved transporting these works of art and the cost!

As promised here is the VR Site which will truly bring TEFAF, Maastricht 2019 to you.  Work your way around these 40 galleries and enjoy the journey but know that you are only seeing 14% of what you would have seen had you been there in person. If you go next year I suggest you plan a few days in town and enjoy the sights in the area around Maastricht as well as the excellent cuisine.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

“Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern”

In my youth, go back well over half a century ago, in the mid 1950’s through the 60’s I was a fan of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.  I knew just where to find the early Paris School paintings I enjoyed especially Picasso ‘s “Les Demoisselles d’Avignon”. Then there was  Salvador Dali’s little surrealistic painting, “The Persistence of Memory” with its clocks draped over a branch, a fossil and a wood desk. Of course, the picture that everyone must remember from those days was a painting placed on the staircase Oskar Schlemmer’s 1932 “Bauhaus Stairway”.  I also learned a great deal about photography there with their wonderful early museum exhibitions on the subject by their famous curator, Thaddeus John Szarkowski who was at MOMA from 1962 to 1991.

In later years with all the expansion and less emphasis on representational art I lost touch in many respects but their new show, “Lincoln Kirstein’s Modern” is a step into the past, unusual for MoMA.  Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) is best known for being a co-founder of the New York City Ballet together with the great Russian choreographer, George Balanchine, who he convinced to join him in New York.  Kirstein was also a writer and curator, as well as an impresario and general patron of the arts.  I can’t say I knew him, though I did once sit at the dinner table with him at the Century Association in New York and my wife interacted with him through Henry Geldzahler, curator of 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum.  In other words, Kirstein touched much of the art world in New York.

Kirstein’s interest in ballet led him to donate his archive of 5,000 ballet-related books, drawings and ephemera to the museum, already in 1939.  Like many great patrons he had an influence on the museum without ever being on the staff.  This photographic portrait of Kirstein was done by Walker Evans (1903-1975) In 1931.

From MoMA’s press release,-- “the exhibition illuminates the influence of his vision, tastes, and efforts on the Museum’s collecting, exhibition, and publication history.”  It is obviously a show of great depth in the taste of a cultural icon with nearly 300 works from the museum’s collection and archives —including set and costume designs for the ballet by Paul Cadmus and Jared French, photographs by Walker Evans and George Platt Lynes, realist and magic realist paintings by Honoré Sharrer and Pavel Tchelitchew, sculptures by Elie Nadelman and Gaston Lachaise, and the Latin American art that Kirstein acquired for the Museum. Here is a typical image by George Platt Lynes.

Deborah Solomon, a New York art critic who used to write for the New York Times, in her WNYC News  review grants that it is worth reviving Kirstein’s contributions but accuses him of “questionable art infatuations” for his favoring of “figuration in the age of abstraction” since “he preferred artists who show off their technical skill, artists who can draw a hand with anatomical correctness”!  Ms. Solomon is, of course, of a younger generation. Maybe because I grew up in the Old Master world, I side with Lincoln Kirstein. In the early 50’s my father thought Abstract Expressionism was a passing fad… so much for predicting the future!

Kirstein lived in the demi-monde being Jewish and bisexual first falling in love with the artist Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) and then marrying his sister and they were married for half a century. I too love Cadmus, his paintings that is, a typical work “Greenwich Village Cafeteria” from 1934 is in the care of MoMA, on extended loan from the U.S. WPA Arts Program. The show also includes a gouache of Ballet Positions by Cadmus, appropriately one of Kirstein’s gifts to MoMA.  All images are from material supplied by MoMA.

Honoré Sharrer (1920-2009) “Workers and Paintings” from 1943 is another gift from Kirstein.  Sharrer received a great compliment from the poet and Yale English professor, John Ashbery who praised her paintings, describing their meticulous style as "a collaboration between Norman Rockwell and the brothers van Eyck."  You will see in the painting that there are old and modern masters and how “Everyman” might react to them.

So many images to choose from but I will just pick one more iconic one and that is of the famous anarchists and convicted murderers, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco,1931–32 by Ben Shahn (1898–1969).   Kirstein championed Shahn for his political engagement and This guache was a gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller from the estate of Ben Shahn/ VAGA at Artists Rights Society, NY.

The show was curated by Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator, and Samantha Friedman, Associate Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints as many of the works are on paper.  I do like that the Modern is looking back at its roots and one of its great patrons. The show will be up until June 15.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Green Book

Speaking of advances in technology as I did last week, we now have “streaming”,  and are able to get first run films on line for a lower cost than going to the movies.  Admittedly, some films would lose a lot being seen on a regular TV screen, but small intimate films may even have more impact on the television being watched with family at home.

So it was with the film chosen to receive the Oscar for best film of the year, “Green Book”.   I will not get into whether it was the best since I have not seen all the other movies.  Those who actually vote get DVD’s sent to them so that they can view all the candidates and vote intelligently. 

“Green Book” has been referred to as a “feel good” picture which I guess it is though I found lots to think about.  Of course, what comes to mind right away are the films “Trading Places” the 1983 film with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy . A closer comparison, and the reverse of this film which is the 1989 movie, “Driving Miss Daisy” with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman.  In the latter a black driver is hired to drive  the white Miss Daisy around and she resists until they find their common ground. “Green Book” reverses the roles. 

First off, why the title?  I grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s and still remember the signs down South for the “coloreds Only” water fountains and restrooms.  I had to ask my parents why I could not use them… I don’t remember their response other than a sense of disgust in their voices.  What I never realized, until now, is that “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was an annual guidebook for African-Americans.  Driving was one way to avoid issues of segregation on the train or plane.  I had no idea this guide existed, which is even embarrassing to admit.

1940 edition, Wikimedia Commons/
Collection of the New York Public Library

The film is based on a true story of the very successful pianist, Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali,who lived a priviledged life in an ornate apartment above Carnegie Hall. Having agreed to do a tour in the South in 1962 he needed a driver.  After interviewing a number of white applicants, he decided to go with an Italian-American bouncer from the Copa Cabana, Frank Vallelonga known as Tony the Lip, played by Viggo Mortensen. Tony has been laid-off while the Copa is being renovated.  In real life when he went back to work at the Copa he was promoted to Maitre d’. 

The two protagonists in the film begin to defend each other as they run into the problems you would expect where even a celebrity is not allowed to eat in an all-white dining room and black and white individual association is considered wrong. Before he left on their tour, Tony’s wife insisted that he write which he did not do well as he had never gone beyond a grade school education. During the trip Don Shirley turns his driver’s clumsy prose into flowery love letters.  A true bond is formed between these two disparate men where each learns from the other. No, maybe all the problems of the world will not be cured by this sort of one-on-one interaction but it is a step in the right direction.  Here is a trailer for the film:

The movie BlacKkKlansman by Spike Lee is set a decade later.  Here one could say is the other side of the coin and a sadder and more pessimistic one. It is based on the autobiography of the first black member of the Colorado Springs police force.  Even his successful infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of a white officer does not stop their evil program.  The point is made of why, African Americans still feel they need to fight for their rights in the light of recent events and our current administration, which is openly reproached in the film.  Because the Klan does not have much more love for Jews than they do for blacks, they too are included in this hate fest as the film ends with the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the subsequent riots and the death of a counter-protester, and some of Trump’s remarks.

These two films show both how far we have come and at the same time how much further we need to go to try to change people’s fear of the other. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Met Live

Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico has many advantages, but New York did offer more access to the Arts.  Happily, however, progress in technology includes The Met Live which brings the Metropolitan Opera to millions across the globe.  We get to see it regularly at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

I must admit to a love hate relationship with opera and, frankly, I am often bored. I find the operas that last 4 hours or more with intermissions are just too long in the theatre.  Sometimes, however, there is an exception which makes me feel it was worth the pain of getting there.

This happened recently when we saw a performance of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” telecast via satellite from the Met.  To eliminate my only negative of the evening up front let me say that there were more transmission interruptions than ever before. These are short gaps, usually no more than a few seconds, but it can be annoying especially if it occurs during an aria, which is surprisingly rare.  I am convinced the radical weather patterns caused by global warming and resulting effects on the satellites are the source of the interruptions.

Having gotten rid of that nit-picking, the rest was fabulous.  As far as the length of the opera is concerned it was a 3 hour evening including one half hour intermission.  For those who have never seen the Met transmissions you get close ups which gives a more intimate feeling and focus to the evening.  Also, there are interesting interviews during the intermission.

When you go to the Metropolitan Opera and are sitting in the orchestra you might see the conductor from behind, but little of the musicians. If you sit in a loge or balcony you may see the entire orchestra pit but certainly not the expression on the conductor’s face.  In the telecasts, however, you can watch both the conductor and the members of the orchestra in closeups during the overtures.  Enrique Mazzola, the conductor at this performance, made Donizetti’s overture spectacular.  Though Spanish-born he is described as an Italian Conductor since he studied at the Milan Conservatory.  “La Fille du Regiment” is clearly in his bailiwick as his specialty is bel canto opera.  He seemed in seventh heaven as he led his charges who played superbly.

The soprano who was the daughter adopted by the Regiment was Pretty Yende.  She has a beautiful voice and her coloratura is perfectly effortless.  Her life story is what fairy tales are made of.  She grew up in a small town in South Africa where her family spoke Zulu.  Entering the University of Cape Town to study accounting she switched fields to graduate from The South African College of Music at the University.  She promptly gained an apprenticeship at La Scala and went on to graduate from The Accademia Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. Since graduating from the La Scala program in 2011 she has sung in all the major opera houses of Europe. Here is a snippet with Yende in La Filled du Regiment ...

There was, however, a second star, the Mexican tenor, Javier Camarena.  He had made his professional debut, as Tonio in a 2004 staging of “La Fille du Régiment”, at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and has obviously perfected this bel canto tour de force.  In his aria, “Ah! Mes amis” the tenor is expected to hit 9 high C’s. At our performance Camarena brought down the house and the audience would not let him go without an encore,--meaning 18 high C’s.  As he mentioned in his interview between the acts that does not include the 30 to 40 high C’s he hit while rehearsing in his dressing room!   Again, thanks to YouTube here is one of his encores ...

The supporting cast was also superb without a sour note and much humor.  Kathleen Turner, the actress, also had a small and very funny role (without singing) as The Dutchess of Krakenthorp.

Over 20 years ago when I took our son to the Metropolitan Opera as a teenager he came home and suggested to his mother that maybe the Met should spend more on training the chorus and less on their complicated sets.  Well, they must have heard him because today the chorus is the best, bar none.  So, as you can tell, we had another great evening enjoying one of the treasures of New York while sitting at the Lensic in Santa Fe.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Choir of Man

The Choir of Man … my first thought was what kind of a cult is that.  When my wife asked if I wanted to go, I thought, what? To listen to hours of religious music, no thank you.  My wife insisted, “you will really enjoy it”.  You guessed it, she was right.  What a performance!

No, the set on the stage of the Lensic Theatre in Santa Fe was not a church but rather an Irish Pub.  Here I must digress to explain where I am coming from.  A bar to me is a crowded dark room where you push your way to the bar grab, grab, grab until someone hands you two drinks and then push, push, push your way back so that you can drink with your mate while being jostled around so that per chance there will be a place to sit down.  

A pub, however, has a far more convivial atmosphere with plenty of tables and not bad fare.  When I lived in London in the 1960’s I went to a pub for lunch every once in a while, though, to my chagrin, I do not care for beer, which is a must to have the whole experience.  There is one thing common to both, the bar and the pub, a much-used privy, and that was included in the Choir of Man’s performance. When was the last time you saw three men pissing on stage or at least the illusion thereof? Yes, we did actually see the piss ... gross?  Not with these jolly gentlemen.  For some reason I could not find a photo on line!  But I assure you the scene was modest but hilarious.

The Choir of Man starts their performance by inviting the entire audience (in the case of the Lensic, over 800 people) to come up on stage for a tankard of beer, or as they would say in Britain, a pint!  This festivity lasts for about 15 minutes by which time the audience is properly warmed up to enjoy the show even more, though it is difficult to know how that is possible.  

Like any good theater the show looks completely spontaneous.  In fact, it all began when the director, Nic Dodson, came upon an Irish pub where patrons had gathered with their instruments to sing and play. He developed a theatrical production through workshops and a casting call.  After they were given the basic idea for the show the professional cast members built it around their own musical tastes and talents. The original plan was to do the show in an actual pub.  From what I gather it was done in a pub or two and then brought to the stage.   Listening to our audience it was clear that many knew a lot more of these English, Irish and Scottish songs than I did. But there was also an occasional show tune or popular song.

The show has only been in existence since 2017 and this was their first tour of the States. This year they will also appear in Australia, UK and Europe.  It must be hard enough just to act on a worldwide tour but to be asked to jump and shout and appear sunny faced to an audience 24/7 must be a hell of a strain and a gift!

The Choir of Man may look like a burly lot but are they ever talented!  They all have good voices and at the performance we saw there was a wonderful tap dance performance.  While a piano and a couple of guitars are always onstage other instruments kept appearing including a banjo, ukulele, violin and accordion.  Various real and improvised drums (actually boxes) were used for percussion Even bagpipes were played, mercifully briefly.  In another version they produced a trumpet as well.  Having stomped around the stage with the others the bagpipe player was quite winded and took a moment before joining more song.  During tours around the country where they are playing a different house every night or two it can be a shock when you suddenly are singing and dancing at an altitude of nearly 7,000 feet. Santa Fe is at the same altitude as St. Moritz, Switzerland! 

The cast of nine was moving around so much that I found myself continuously counting how many people were actually on stage. For instance, the tap dancer must have slipped offstage to remove his taps before he rejoined the group singing and dancing.  Then they brought some audience members up to the stage and gave them small roles.  One critic wrote “for this, at times, cheesy, sing-a-long show and there are plenty who enjoy their moment on stage, some even taking their moment slightly too far… “. At the performance we saw one gentleman from the audience augmented his role when he mouthed the words along with the singer of “The Impossible Dream” from “The Man from La Mancha”!  Here is a different show using the audience in a slightly different manner.

Behind the merriment, however, there is message.  The latest statistics show that every week in the UK eighteen pubs are closing which has a detrimental effect on community spirit and increases incidence of loneliness (especially in men). 

In closing, enjoy this last short video ... it will give you a taste of the music and energy of The Choir of Man.